Inquiries and reviews seek the truth in GSOC controversies

Cormac O’Keeffe looks at a plethora of investigations, inquiries and reviews that are under way to try and establish the facts and assess the actions of various state agencies and individuals in relation to four separate controversies.

Penalty Points

Who is heading it? Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission — on the request of Justice Minister Alan Shatter

What are they looking at? Against the background of a public dispute between the Public Accounts Committee and the Garda commissioner over the appearance of Sgt McCabe at a hearing, Mr Shatter referring the whole controversy to GSOC for investigation. He did this on January 27 under section 102 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005. GSOC’s probe will follow two previous investigations: one by Assistant Commissioner John O’Mahony and another by the Comptroller and Auditor General.

Powers? GSOC have full police powers in their investigation, if they need them, including interviewing under caution and search powers. Mr Shatter announced he is also granting GSOC powers to directly access the Pulse system as part of this investigation.

Timeframe? Up to GSOC and may depend on whether or not it has any dispute with gardaí regarding access to sensitive personal documentation.

Who do they report to? GSOC is obliged to keep the minister informed of the progress and results of their investigation (as well as the Garda commissioner and gardaí against whom allegations have been made against). However, GSOC does not have to comply with this obligation if it might jeopardise a criminal prosecution, jeopardise a person’s safety and they consider it not in the public interest to so do.

GSOC Suspected Bugging

Who is heading it? After weeks of confusion and spin the Cabinet agreed to appoint retired High Court Judge John Cooke.

What are they looking at? Judge Cooke has a difficult job on his hands in unravelling why GSOC a) suspected bugging b) why gardaí were suspected of it and c), most difficult of all, were they actually being bugged. It will be a judgement call on the balance of probabilities (the level of proof inquiries operate). Judge Cooke will seek to correspond and speak to all the relevant people, not least the British security company Verrimus that conducted the sweeps at GSOC offices. He will test those findings against technical experts at his disposal to see if they stand up. He will also question GSOC bosses on why exactly they launched an investigation into possible garda involvement.

Powers? Judge Cooke has no statutory powers to compel people to be interviewed, search premises or seize documentation. It is an informal investigation, but one that has been used previously by governments. The Taoiseach has suggested its moral authority should dictate full cooperation by those involved. All the relevant parties, including GSOC, the Garda commissioner and Verrimus, and the minister have indicated they will.

Timeframe? Judge Cooke has been given eight weeks or soon thereafter to conduct his review.

Who do they report to? Judge Cooke will report to the minister for justice who said he will lay the report before the Oireachtas

Whistleblower Dossier

Who is heading it? After another heated week of claims and counter-claims, the Cabinet agreed to appoint criminal law practitioner Sean Guerin SC to examine the dossier sent to Taoiseach Enda Kenny by whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe through Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin

What are they looking at? Whistleblower Dossier: Sean Guerin SC has a mountain of documentation to marshall and digest in a bid to determine how 12 allegations of Garda misconduct and abuse made by Sergeant McCabe were investigated. The Taoiseach said he will be able to “engage directly” with the sergeant as part of the review.

Powers? Like Judge Cooke, Mr Guerin SC has informal powers, but again the Taoiseach expects full cooperation, which both the Garda and Sgt McCabe have indicated. The Taoiseach and Mr Shatter have unequivocally stated that if Mr Guerin recommends a full commission of inquiry it will be done.

Timeframe? Sean Guerin SC is due to report by the Easter recess (April 17)

Who do they report to? Mr Guerin will report to the Taoiseach, who said it will be laid before the Oireachtas

GSOC Review

Who is heading it? Parallel with Judge Cooke’s review, Mr Shatter announced a review of the laws governing GSOC. The Oireachtas Justice Committee will conduct hearings, which will feed into the minister’s laws.

What are they looking at? The Oireachtas committee will hold hearings with all relevant parties — including GSOC and the Garda commissioner — on the powers and responsibilities of GSOC under the Garda Síochána Act 2005. This will also include how well the troubled protocols detailing the interaction of the two agencies is working.

Recommendations from these hearings will be sent to Mr Shatter, who will bring forward new amendments.

Powers? GSOC Review: As long as members stay away from making allegations about individuals embroiled in the above cases, the committee has the power to do its job.

Timeframe? Coming months as minister wants to bring proposals before the summer

In addition:

The Garda Inspectorate has finished its examination of the penalty points system and the minister has said he is due to receive it shortly.

Lorcan Roche Kelly, husband of Sylvia, who was murdered by Jerry McGrath, on bail for two separate offences, has taken legal proceedings in the High Court against the State over how it handled the investigation. Mary Lynch, a taxi driver assaulted by McGrath, is understood to have made a fresh complaint to GSOC about the case.

Sgt McCabe has two sets of legal proceedings in the High Court against the State, the minister for justice and the Garda Síochána.

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